Reflecting Sunlight

tt AKA Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and the new NAS report. I think Michael Mann has a typical response: don't touch it with a bargepole, but I think his reasoning as well as his answer is wrong. His reasoning is mostly "geoengineering is hardly cheap—it comes with great potential harm". This is strictly invalid; the actual-cost as measured by how-much-it-costs-to-do-it is, I think, generally agreed to be "small", or at least likely-to-be-small; no-one has actually done it yet, so there aren't any good numbers. But the worry is that it might be cheap. And the cost ascribed to the harm is not really known; in the usual way, one should probably weight that potential harm by the unknown probability of it occurring. And yes I know that SRM doesn't deal with, e.g. ocean acidification

A useful presentation of the "two tribes" comes via ATTP's twit; the "where is the NAS report on nationalizing and rapidly shutting down the fossil fuel industry?" side (which I think is fuckwitted, obvs) is by Kevin Surprise; you can sense him salivating at the idea of "a massive, punitive-level wealth tax". By contrast, Matthias Honegger who - apart from talking to idiots - appears quite sane, represents the "we won't be able to meaningfully engage on questions of desirability unless there is meaningful research" side.

My own view is that while SRM has dangers, running screaming from it with drivel about "SG at best bolsters status-quo, at worst would further concentrate power" is wrongthink. In trying to "solve" GW we're trying to, errm, solve global warming; we're not trying For Great Justice and to use it as leverage for the revolt of the proles and a return to earthly paradise; though that is what some people (hello, Kevin!) are trying to use it for.

And the reply to "it comes with great potential harm" is "well, then it would be a good idea to do some research on it then". The reply to "but that might come with 'moral hazard' - people might stop trying to reduce CO2" is "calm down". A tiny (by comparison with other things) bit o' research isn't going to do harm.

This has shades of "experts will lie to you sometimes" (notice the ATTP, badly IMO, twits that without indicating any opinion); but the underlying piece by Noah Smith is bad. And it seems to me it's the way that some "expert" opinion is headed on SRM: you poor proles can't cope with complexity so let's just run away from it".

I should perhaps point out that I haven't actually read the NAs report. But here's the summary: Reflecting Sunlight: Recommendations for Solar Geoengineering Research and Research Governance Climate change is creating impacts that are widespread and severe for individuals, communities, economies, and ecosystems around the world. While efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts are the first line of defense, researchers are exploring other options to reduce warming. Solar geoengineering strategies are designed to cool Earth either by adding small reflective particles to the upper atmosphere, by increasing reflective cloud cover in the lower atmosphere, or by thinning high-altitude clouds that can absorb heat. While such strategies have the potential to reduce global temperatures, they could also introduce an array of unknown or negative consequences. This report concludes that a strategic investment in research is needed to enhance policymakers' understanding of climate response options. The United States should develop a transdisciplinary research program, in collaboration with other nations, to advance understanding of solar geoengineering's technical feasibility and effectiveness, possible impacts on society and the environment, and social dimensions such as public perceptions, political and economic dynamics, and ethical and equity considerations. The program should operate under robust research governance that includes such elements as a research code of conduct, a public registry for research, permitting systems for outdoor experiments, guidance on intellectual property, and inclusive public and stakeholder engagement processes.

Update: 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea?

By Alan Robock via Aaron Thierry. TL;DR: not convincing; more of a hand-waving "there are issues" than any attempt to address them in any depth; and I'm doubtful he is being honest (or, if you prefer, impartial); see #8.

Let's look: 1. Effects on regional climate: true but GQ will also have effects on regional climate. 2. Continued ocean acidification: probably the best one. 3. Ozone depletion: potentially an issue; he provides zero detail, which is odd; if there is no detail, crying out for more research; 4. Effects on plants: again, research; 5. More acid deposition: doubtful, I think, as the effects would be small; he makes zero attempt to quantify it. 8. Less sun for solar power. Scientists estimate that as little as a 1.8 percent reduction in incoming solar radiation would compensate for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Errm, but we're not suggesting nearly so much compensation. So, less than 1% effect on solar power in exchange for ~50% compensation? That would be a pretty good deal, not that you'd guess it from his words. 9. Environmental impacts of implementation. Any system that could inject aerosols into the stratosphere... would cause enormous environmental damage. Silly, I think. 10. Rapid warming if deployment stops: true, as I noted. 11. There’s no going back: untrue, I think. 13. Undermining emissions mitigation: not I think a valid argument against doing the research. 15. Commercial control of technology: meh. 16. Military use of the technology: ditto. And so on, to the usual hand-wringing.

Note I've skipped a couple that were dull, IMO. His #13: Undermining emissions mitigation. If humans perceive an easy technological fix to global warming that allows for “business as usual,” gathering
the national (particularly in the United States and China) and international will to change consumption patterns and energy infrastructure will be even more difficult.18 This is the oldest and most persistent argument against geoengineering is what I'm criticising: he doesn't want SRM to work, because he wants emissions reduction for its own sake - for changing lifestyles - and something else that would solve GW would be bad, for him, because his primary aim isn't solving GW. That, obviously, is a permissible idea, as long as you're open about it: but he isn't.


* US urged to invest in sun-dimming studies as climate warms: National academies report is most explicit call yet for a government research programme to explore the controversial field of solar geoengineering - Nurture.
Possibly an unpopular opinion here, but I'm uneasy about some of the proposed research. Given the issues are far more related to the (im)possibility of sustainable governance, accelerated research into the physical science could lead to over-confidence about deployment says Big Gav.
* Some not-very-interesting speculation from the Economist: Reaching for the sunshade: July 2030


Entropic man said...

We went to great lengths to reduce urban pollution in the UK after the 1952 smog by relocating the coal fired power stations to the countryside with high chimneys to disperse the pollution above the boundary layer.

The result was sulphur Acid Rain across Europe.

The cure for acid rain was scrubbers to remove the sulphur.

The result was lower albedo and faster global warming.

Now we want to release sulphur to increase albedo.

Back to the acid rain?

William M. Connolley said...

I don't think there's any plan to put stuff just "above" the boundary layer; one idea is to put it in the stratosphere, but that is rather different. The point being to avoid it raining out, so you need much less of it. Wiki covers this at Stratospheric aerosol injection.

Phil said...

Cheap vs robust again.

It might be cheap to maintain a reasonable climate by continuously lofting sulfur into the stratosphere. Or might not.

How robust is the solution? What happens if it fails? This is more important that how cheap it is.

William M. Connolley said...

> How robust is the solution? What happens if it fails? This is more important that how cheap it is.

These are good questions, which we would need research to answer. And research, not the actual geoengineering, is what is being proposed. And which seems to engender fear. Caution is definitely warranted, but not fear.

PaulS said...

I just don't see it being politically feasible. There's a big difference between countries agreeing to reduce their influence on climate and countries agreeing to deliberately set the global climate to a specific target essentially forever. Should it be set to pre-industrial temperature? Level at the time of Paris agreement? 1.5C above pre-industrial? Every country in the world will be running their own GCMs to determine what's optimal for them.


The US pulls out of Paris? Very annoying, but not a deal breaker.

The US pulls out of an SRM treaty? Is the rest of the world really going to be allowed to continue global SRM without the US?

Phil said...

Questions with answers that will not matter, even if they do.

Notice again that economics drives the cheapest.

Tom said...

There are several geo-engineering ideas floating around, including iron floating around to stimulate plankton growth, restarting air pollution and increasing the reflectivity of the top side of clouds. Even old fashioned cloud seeding.

They all suffer from some real defects. If your country is hell bent on geo-engineering but my country likes the current climate just fine, we might get a little miffed. Also, the threat of overshoot is real but not adequately discussed. They don't really come with an abort switch.

Except for space-based solutions, such as blocking sunlight before it gets to earth. (My fanciful imagination pictures a reflective Mylar cloth that not only blocks the sun but focuses the blocked sunlight on a space based power supplier, but that's just my sci-fi background erupting spontaneously.)

Most other situations need to be evaluated on not just a cost-benefit curve, but a real threat assessment as well.

Phil said...

There is exactly one globe.

A global political decision for climate is needed. What is the set point for future climate, should it be 1950's average? Something different?

Just to muddy the waters: How? Geoengineering might be cheap, but I don't see how it could be robust. Should we be a global Texas?

Could one unlikely event collapse the climate control system?

Continually raising alternatives is a great way to never decide.

William M. Connolley said...

The global governance issue is real. FWIW, I don't see SRM actually happening, for a variety of reasons, so this is very what-if: but if we get to 2050 and things are, for whatever reason, desperate; then enough countries might be onboard for it to work. In which case, we'll look like idiots if we've done no research.

> They don't really come with an abort switch.

Actually, stratospheric aerosol does. If you don't keep renewing, it falls out in (waves hands) a few years. That of course gives you the opposite problem.

Anonymous said...

It's really simple.

The geoengineering solution to smoking tobacco is cough medicine.

The geoengineering solution to alcoholism would be? Clearly it would not be to cut down on alcohol consumption.

The geoengineering solution to air pollution? Perfume...

We simply need to wake up and care for our planetary home! That we don't is simply breathtaking to me.

Were there two Earth's those who care not could have one and people like me could look after the other (which would involved simply leaving it alone to get on with things while we live better lives). Sadly, there is only one and good people are swept along by the stupid, the ignorant, the complacent and the careless.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Perhaps Dr. Connolley and I agree, minus a bit of his invective. Research is probably a good idea, but implementation may pit nations against each other. It is easy to believe that Russia and perhaps Canada would not mind a couple or 3 C more of warmth.


Why worry about albedo when The Root says pandemic whiteness melts ice caps.